Making Room in Your Practice for Boutique Services

January 18, 2018
Laura Hoot

Offering new services in your hospital can be a gateway to happier clients, a more satisfied staff and a healthier bottom line.

Pet owners are requesting increasingly luxurious and sophisticated veterinary services, from massaging baths and nail trims to acupuncture and digital X-rays. Many veterinary practices are reluctant to add new services to their plate, but fancy pet salons and resort hotels with sparkling lobbies, bubbly Instagram photos, and cutesy, welcoming names are popping up throughout the country — and threatening to woo your clients.

The Benefits of Expansion

Here are some compelling reasons to add a boutique service (or two or 10) to your practice.

Competitive Edge

Dip your toes into the glittering waters of boutique veterinary care today and you will meet and exceed pet owner expectations tomorrow. Don’t wait until clients are knocking on your door (or worse, knocking on other clinics’ doors) to offer concierge services, specialty cat grooming or doggie day care. If you wait too long, you won’t be able to stay ahead of the competition. Instead, you’ll be left trying to keep up with it.

Increased Profits and Loyalty

Veterinarians often shy away from profit making, but there is no shame in keeping your clients and, in effect, your accountant happy.

Short-term profit is not the only goal when adding new services to your practice. Long-term client retention is another important aim. If a pet owner must make an inconvenient trek to an unfamiliar veterinary clinic or salon for a service that you don’t offer, that client may never return to your practice for the services you do offer. This means that if several clients are asking for pet haircuts, it’s best to cave in to their demands and start doing some grooming. Otherwise, you risk losing those clients forever.

Better Staff Morale

Many clinics find it easier to attract and retain higher-quality employees when they offer a larger variety of services. A practice that offers novel experiences and career advancement is more attractive to potential team members.

The Keys to Expansion

Adding a boutique service to your practice offers many benefits for you, your clients and your patients, but is it really practical for a busy clinic to provide both quality veterinary care and add-on services like grooming, boarding and spa treat-ments? Here are some tips to make it work for you.

Get staff buy-in.

Two obvious considerations for adding a new service are client demand and cost to the clinic. Another consideration, though, is passion — how your staff feels about it. Your practice is only as good as the care it can provide.

Although your competitors may offer grooming, luxury boarding, house calls or innovative medical treatments like cold laser therapy, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should, too. If your staff feels that added services are disconnected from the clinic’s core mission and their day-to-day duties, they may feel unmotivated and overworked and, ultimately, may not provide the highest-quality care.

Chances are your staff has hidden skills that match many of your clients’ demands. Take time to interview your employees about their favorite tasks and their career aspirations before deciding on how exactly to expand your practice offerings.

Cross-train your team.

One mistake some practices make when trying to expand their offerings is putting all the pressure of the new service on a single person, such as a groomer or mobile veterinarian. The problem here is that if that person leaves the clinic, so does the service.

Instead of approaching things in such a temporary way, take the time and spend the money to cross-train your entire staff on the services you offer. That will empower your team to deliver the best care possible and build long-lasting relationships with clients. For example, a veterinary technician normally focused on basic wellness may check in on a pet receiving a more “frivolous” service, like a bath, and notice a health problem that needs to be addressed.

Get rid of waste.

Before adding more to your clinic’s already crowded table, see if you can clear anything away. Do you offer services that nobody requests or are not profitable? Does your staff waste time on administrative tasks like billing and appointment scheduling? Do you spend too much money on office supplies or medical technology?

Perhaps you can negotiate a deal on office supplies, purchase computer technology that will speed up administrative tasks or unload your shelves of fancy pet shampoos that no one is buying and replace them with flea and tick medications that are more likely to sell. During breaks between client appointments, spend time on tasks like inventory, team building, cleaning and waste disposal, client follow-ups and organizing, all of which can improve the overall efficiency of your clinic. Make more space.

It’s one thing to make room in your schedule for new appointments; it’s a whole other thing to make actual, physical room in your clinic. The good news is that there are often easy ways for staff to reorganize and redesign the existing workspace. Storing unused equipment and files and transitioning rooms throughout the day for multiple purposes (haircut versus checkup) can go a long way.

Many full-service hospitals find that professional remodeling or opening a new location is worth the cost. This type of major investment provides a great opportunity to spark public awareness of your new services through creative marketing — share the construction process on social media, and promote a reopening when all your new services are available.

Hire more staff.

You very well may need to expand your team when you expand your services. That could mean hiring, say, a full-time groomer or perhaps a receptionist to free up a doctor from appointment follow-ups or billing tasks. When interviewing a potential new staff member, ask questions like “Where do you see yourself in two to three years?” and “What did you like least about your last position?” The answers will help you assess whether the person will fit into your future expanded practice, not just today’s smaller practice.

Get more tools and equipment.

Beyond adding to your team, you’ll need tools and devices to speed up everyday productivity. Reevaluate the tools and software currently being used to perform tasks like billing, appointment scheduling and medical record keeping. Take advantage of innovations in medical technology, as well. For example, a one-time purchase of a cutting-edge veterinary ultrasound machine could save a doctor hours every week.

Price it right.

If you don’t set realistic revenue expectations from the get-go, your new service will just be a new accounting problem. It’s crucial that you offer the right services at the right prices to maintain and grow your business over time. Define your key performance indicators and expected return on investment well ahead of launching a service. If you’re struggling with how much to charge, browse competitor prices and compare them against your cost of investment.

Partner up.

If other organizations and businesses offer the services your clients are demanding, you might be able to piggyback on them without having to invest as much of your staff’s time, energy and resources. Although in-house expansion is generally recommended, sometimes a long-term relationship with a trusted outside partner can make expansion possible where it otherwise wouldn’t have been. Some practices may even choose to merge with or acquire a business that offers the boutique services their clients want.

Get the word out.

Just because your clients asked you for a service doesn’t mean they will know you now offer it. Be sure to promote your new service wherever possible. Post on Facebook, add information to your website, update your newsletter, record new phone greetings, and train your front desk staff to tell clients about it.

Keep demand going.

Make sure you have plenty of customer referrals and touch points to keep up demand for your boutique services long after their initial launch.

A special grooming session or acupuncture treatment is not as routine as an annual wellness exam or as urgent as a pet illness or injury, so you’ll have to get creative to sustain demand for these services.

Online and offline advertising, appointment reminders, seasonal promotions, social media interactions and other customer touch points are very affordable ways to maintain awareness about your many services.

The Bottom Line

Adding a new service to your practice is not something to be done lightly, but doing so can have a huge benefit on both your profit margin and client and employee satisfaction. If your clients are requesting a service that you don’t currently offer, and it makes financial and “emotional” sense for you to provide it, then it’s time to expand!

By preparing and cross-training your staff, reorganizing your office space and schedule, eliminating wasted time and money, and engaging with your clients frequently, you can find great success in expanding your services.

Once you’ve successfully integrated a new service into your practice, your work is not over. You will need to regularly monitor client demand, clinic costs and competitor offerings. Make time to attend trade shows, talk with your staff and clients (consider sending out a quarterly survey), and keep tabs on industry trends.

Laura Hoot specializes in veterinary marketing and online writing at Beyond Indigo Pets (beyondindigopets.com). She has a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin and has written for The Huffington Post and USA Today, among other publications.